A week in the Sierra Nevada


May 16, 2016
Sequoia/Kings Canyon NP
Onion Valley Trailhead
8/1 - 8/8/18 (7 nights)

Warning: this is long and probably has too many photos (mix of camera and cellphone) and definitely has too many details that most of you won't care about

After a lot of backpacking in KY heat last summer, I decided that I was going to escape the heat/humidity this summer. Originally, I was going to meet up with an internet friend who lives in MT to explore some of the North Cascades, but we were unable to get our schedules to line up. So, I started looking for alternate places. After checking out Vegas flights and car rentals and getting a reasonable deal for both, I decided on checking out the Sierra Nevada for the first time. A little bit of internet research led to to the Onion Valley Trailhead on the east side of the range and Kearsarge Pass into SEKI. I was able to reserve a permit starting on Friday which seemed to be reasonable since I was flying on Wed and coming from ~1000 ft elevation and Kearsarge Pass is ~12000'. A couple nights in the Onion Valley campground getting used to the elevation seemed like a good idea.

So, Wed am wake up really early and drive about an hour to Cincinnati, then direct flight to Vegas, then car rental, then find Home Depot for denatured alcohol for my stove, Walmart for a cheap beer cooler and a beer/ice stop, then about 4 hours of driving to get to the permit place and then another 30 minutes to get to the campground. I knew that the campground was popular, but I was hopeful that getting there early enough in the middle of the week would let me find a spot. When I got there about 5pm, there were still a couple of sites. I got set up and while I was enjoying a beverage a couple women came by looking for a site. I told them that I did not mind if they squeezed into my site. It turned out they were hiking the JMT southbound and were planning on hitching into Independence for their last resupply. I gave them both a beer after they got there tents set up and we chatted a bit, they were both teachers in Vancouver. As I was getting ready for bed, I realized that I had not brought my toothbrush. I told the women that I would be heading into town in the morning to find one and I'd be happy to give them a ride to the post office.

The next morning I relaxed and read for a bit and then we headed into town. I was able to find a toothbrush (and some beef jerkey) and the women were able to get their resupply buckets. And then we headed back up the long road so they could pack up and I could do a little bit of hiking.

Originally I was going to hike up to the Golden Trout Lakes above the campground/trailhead, but I ran into thunder and lightning that made me think climbing higher was stupid, so I headed back to camp and read a bit before making the climb to Robinson Lake.

This waterfall is on the way to Golden Trout Lakes, note the darkening sky, I turned around not long after this photo.

Robinson Lake was a pretty good preview of the Sierra

The next day, I packed up and moved my car out of the campground and headed up the trail. The Trail to Kearsarge Pass is steep and sunny. I'm very glad I did this in the morning because it was still pretty warm at 9am. This was a good resting spot with a little bit of shade and the sounds of the roaring creek.

Heart Lake

It ended up taking me about 3 hours to get to the pass. There were a bunch of people hanging out at the pass, so I took a couple photos, had a snack, and moved on down the trail.

The Kearsarge Lakes area was beautiful. I filtered water, had a snack and left my food in the bear locker to go explore with my camera.

Then on to Charlotte Lake

After making my way around the shore of the Kearsarge Lakes, I gathered my stuff and continued on to Charlotte Lake. I found a campsite near the lake shore and set up camp. It appears that this is a very popular area, there was a noisy group of young kids swimming in the lake and making lots of noise, they were having fun, but they were a little annoying. I then went exploring further down the lake before heading back to camp for dinner and a sunset. I swatted at some mosquitos as it got dark, but they were never bad enough to need bug stuff.

One of my goals for this trip was to take advantage of the dark skies to practice some astro-photography. I got lucky with clear skies every night of the trip, but it got cold enough after dark that it was hard to stay up late.

I delibrately set up camp on the north shore of Charlotte Lake so I could see the Milky Way (Jupiter is on the left).

As it got darker, a very bright light appeared in the east. For a little bit, I thought it was an airplane that was coming right toward me, eventually I realized that it was Mars :)

Charlotte Lake reflections in the morning

Climbing back out of the Charlotte Lake valley.

My goal for today was the Rae Lakes area, I was a little nervous about staying there since it was the weekend and everything I have read suggested it could be a zoo. I was thinking about checking out the Sixty Lakes Basin, but I did not have any real plans after Charlotte Lake, so I could do what ever ended up feeling right.

So out of Charlotte Lake and on to the JMT, also known as the Hiker Highway. It was a beautiful Saturday and the JMT was crowded. I passed about 50 people in a couple of hours going in both directions. It wasn't terrible, but it wasn't solitude either.

Looking down on Charlotte Lake from the JMT

The climb to Glenn Pass on the JMT was steep and hot, but as I got higher, the wildflowers began to be more plentiful. I pulled out my camera a lot which meant that I kept getting passed by people and then I would catch up to them again as I got moving.

A tarn below Glenn Pass

Looking up at Glenn Pass

Looking Southbound on the JMT

I got to the top of Glenn Pass and there were about 25 people hanging out, so once again, I took a couple photos, had a snack and continued down the trail.

The view from the top is impressive

Getting closer to Rae Lakes, not a lot of solitude

I soon got to the Rae Lakes and realized that even though it was early, my legs were pretty tired and I did not really feel like climbing some more, so I decided to stop. I found a good nice campsite away from the JMT side of the lakes hoping that would keep the crowds away. It mostly worked, but I was not accounting for the way sound travels across water. Even though I was .25 miles away from the nearest person, I could hear them very clearly. This would prove to be very annoying in the morning when some guy would not shut up about how good his breakfast was. I assume his hiking partner was too nice to tell him to shut up, but I almost yelled across the lake at him :)

Nice view from camp

The "Painted Lady" above Rae Lakes

After setting up camp, I went to wander the area a bit and see if there were better campsites for the future. I also took my camera to see what I would find. There were not a lot of flowers, but I found some.

I also found a couple deer that were very used to people.

Then back to camp for dinner and sunset

The stars began to come out pretty quick, but it wasn't until about 9:30 that it was totally dark.
Milky Way over the Painted Lady

I woke up to a gorgeous morning that was only a little spoiled by noisy people across the lake.

Looking north across the middle Rae Lake (Fin Dome on the left)

I decided that I would head to the basin that was my goal yesterday. Where I ended up is not a secret, especially if you read this report, but I don't want to put a name to the photos, since this was the quietest part of the trip. It felt like I had the whole area to myself and I see no reason to potentially add more people to the area. Everyone can stay on the JMT and enjoy the beauty of Rae Lakes.

So a little bit of hiking and some nice views and more flowers.

Looking down on the Rae Lakes basin (the Painted Lady is just off to the right)

I set up camp and had the whole day to explore the basin. I had seen mention of an off trail path out of the basin that was intriguing, so I hiked in that direction to check things out. It was very nice hiking without a pack. I found the exit point, but it was very steep and filled with scree. I decided that I did not want to go down it with a pack and by myself. I'm sure I could have made it, but it seemed like an unnecessary risk to take by myself. So back towards camp and a swim in the lake.

Right near my campsite was a perfect area to jump in the lake. I stripped down naked and jumped in and then dried off in the sun, the water was cold, but with the sun, it felt great.

Sunset coming up

Blue hour and a hint of stars/planets

Jupiter again

Mars on the lower left and Jupiter on the right

I took my time leaving the basin and at one point I dropped my pack and went exploring some more off trail. On my way out, I ran into a couple of guys who were planning of staying a couple nights. They said they had never been in the area, so I told them where I had set up camp and left them to enjoy the solitude.

I headed back to Rae Lake and a different campsite that I had found the first night. I was hopeful that it would be less quiet since it wasn't the weekend. I set up camp and then headed north on the JMT to see what I could see. I spent a lot of time poking around the shore of the lake and talked to a couple people.

At one point I heard a woman off in the trees clapping her hands and yelling at a bear. I went to see if I could see the bear and maybe help scare it off since she sounded a little freaked out and it also sounded like the bear wasn't moving away very quickly. Of course, the bear disappeared before I could see it. I talked to the young woman for a moment and told her where I had seen other people camping since she was alone and a bit freaked out. I'm a little disappointed that I spent a week in the Sierra and did not see a bear. I've seen a bunch in the southeast and for some reason really wanted to see a Sierra bear. Maybe next time.

After I got to the outlet of the lower lake, I turned around and headed back to camp for dinner and more stars.

Milky Way and the Painted Lady again (this time with my 65 lens vs the 15)

I took about 20 photos of the central part of the Milky Way and stacked them, basically I wanted to see what I would end up with, pretty happy with this result.

I woke up and got moving a little quicker than the previous mornings, I had to go back over Glenn Pass and wanted to do it before it warmed up too much. The climb wasn't too bad in the morning, I was at the pass by about 10 and there was only one other person who was a little behind me on the trail.

On top of Glenn Pass, north is right, south is left

More flowers

Bullfrog Lake

I was aiming to camp at the Kearsarge Lakes, but after filtering water in the afternoon, I twisted funny as I picked up my pack. For a moment I thought I had torn something in my bad ankle. I had visions of a helicopter ride out of the park, thankfully the pain subsides and I was able to move it and hike on it, so I slowly made my way down the trail.

I got to the junction for Kearsarge Lakes and had a decision to make. If I hiked down, I would have to hike back up and then keep going over Kearsarge Pass. I had visions of my ankle tightening overnight and decided that I would tackle the pass today and camp on the other side. Then I would only have a couple miles, all down hill to get to my car. So goodbye to Kearsarge Lakes, hope to see you again.

I set up camp near Flower Lake and explored a little bit. I talked to a fly fisher who was camping a little bit higher up at Matlock Lake.

I woke up feeling fine, so I followed the trail up to Matlock Lake and poked around a little bit and then headed back to camp and then down the hill to my car.

Clean clothes, a cool beer and a drive to Lone Pine to find a hotel for the night. I had considered staying at the campground again and then a shower in the morning, but decided that I would rather spend a little money on a hotel and pizza and more beer vs. having a rushed day tomorrow.

Another benefit of heading to Lone Pine is that the town is right next to the Alabama Hills. This area is pretty famous for all of the arches. It is also at a pretty low elevation (as is Lone Pine) so it was about 100 degrees in the shade. I found beer and pizza and then went back to the Sierra Permit place to pick some brains about future trips.

Once it got close to sunset, I drove up to the parking area near Mobius Arch. I took a couple beers, headlamp, camera/tripod and I headed into the desert to find Mobius Arch and wait for the stars.

If you look through the arch here, you can just make out the Sierra

Mobius Arch

I was all by myself and was planning on a quiet couple of hours and then a mom and dad and their 4 kids came around the corner and started poking around the arch. I had visions of my carefully planned Milky Way photo disappearing, but they saw me and the tripod and got really apologetic. I told them I was waiting for stars and they weren't ruining any photos at the moment. I took a group photo for them and the dad said they were heading back to the parking area to set up a telescope and I was welcome to stop by on my way out.

Mobius Arch with Jupiter on the right and Mars on the left. Venus was out of frame to the right and Saturn is basically hidden in the middle of the Milky Way, pretty cool to be able to look across the sky and see so many planets as well as the Milky Way.

After a bit, I headed back to my car. I ended up chatting with the mom and dad for about 1/2 hour. They had driven over from the LA area and we camping up near Mt Whitney, but had driven to a lower elevation where it was warmer to set up the telescope.

Then it was time for bed. Woke up the next day, found breakfast and made the drive back to Vegas. Then a wait for my flight, a couple of hours to Cincinnati and a 30 minutes wait for my bag then drive home. I rolled in about 1 am after a very long day.

I hope to be back next year
Great report--and wonderful photos. That trip was on our schedule for this summer, but life (my wife's bone spurs and tendonitis) got in the way. Thanks for showing us what we missed.

And the Astro photos are great. As an amateur astronomer I am amazed at what you can see in them!
Great report--and wonderful photos. That trip was on our schedule for this summer, but life (my wife's bone spurs and tendonitis) got in the way. Thanks for showing us what we missed.

And the Astro photos are great. As an amateur astronomer I am amazed at what you can see in them!

Glad you liked the photos, I don't get skies like that very often in the southeast. The Milky Way was amazing, once it got really dark, it was easy to see the lanes in the center.
Warning: this is long and probably has too many photos (mix of camera and cellphone) and definitely has too many details that most of you won't care about

For me, having a mix of reports from nothing but a video, to a few photos, to one with good detail mixes them all up and keeps them interesting.
I especially like the shots of Painted Lady. I will need to get out there and see her.
WOW ! Wonderful pictures. Lake reflections are beautiful. The Arch with the Milky Way and the planets : just amazing.
You had an awesome summer between this and the kayak trip in Sweden :cool:
Great report - thanks for sharing.
Great report, Mister. Loved the reflections and the night shots with the arch. Thanks!
Looks like a great trip! Nice pics!

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
I'm glad you all liked the photos, it makes it easier to justify carrying a "real" camera and a couple lenses if other people appreciate the output. The Sierra Nevada are so amazing, it is kind of hard to take a bad photo :) I really hope I can make it back next summer.
Hey, nice work man. Sounds like a great trip. Even though it is a pain, flying across the country is part of the adventure. And those Astro photos are awesome (as are the others).
Hey, nice work man. Sounds like a great trip. Even though it is a pain, flying across the country is part of the adventure. And those Astro photos are awesome (as are the others).

It is a pain, but worth it. I was just thinking last night how awesome it would be to live a couple hours away and be able to really explore the area.
great star photos! Also, you lucked out on the smoke. It was bad for much of the summer in many spots.

near Lone Pine at the end of July
great star photos! Also, you lucked out on the smoke. It was bad for much of the summer in many spots.

near Lone Pine at the end of July
View attachment 69371

It was smoky in Independence the day I drove back to town for a toothbrush and it looked smoky as I hiked over Kearsarge Pass, but other than a little haze my first night in the park, smoke was never an issue. I know that I got really lucky.
Wow that’s beautiful stuff! Thanks for sharing! Love that sunset and blue hour shot!
Phenominal views and photos! Couldn't pick a favorite if I tried.
I always try to stay up and try taking a crack at photographing the sky, but I can never stay up late enough after hiking haha.
Great share!
Thanks for sharing all these wonderful pics!!

I’m planning a trip to Kings Canyon/Sequoia next June. What’s the camping situation like? Were these backcountry sites or designated campgrounds? I’m finding conflicting info online regarding camping. Is backcountry camping even allowed in these parks?

One place says there are only 14 or so designated sites and no backcountry camping but then you’ll see trails that are marked at 30+ miles with no campsites marked along them. Doesn’t make sense.
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